In India, ashrams have existed for thousands of years and have always been the guardians of mystical yet practical teachings such as yoga. They range from one-person establishments to places with hundreds of residents; different ashrams emphasise different paths of yoga.
Nowadays, an ashram is widely understood to be a kind of community or some kind of seminar-cum-retreat centre. Though this is partly true, there is much more to an ashram: it is a sacred place that helps us to find health and catalyses a transformation of our mind so that it becomes a vehicle for the realisation and expression of deeper understanding, wisdom and joy.
The word ashram is derived from the Sanskrit shram which means ‘hard work’. Therefore, an ashram is a place of hard work – physically, mentally and emotionally – where we can face and work on our personal problems and negative proclivities (habits, tendencies) and thereby become liberated from their destructive hold on us. An ashram is a place where we can more easily work and act with the attitude of service and get a taste of the meaning of Karma Yoga: action which flows from Awareness.
The word ashram also has another Sanskrit root ashraya – ‘refuge’ or ‘retreat’. Therefore, an ashram is a haven, a place of retreat from the noise and busyness of the world, where we can have the time, energy and inspiration to reflect on what we are doing with our lives, where we are going and who we are. It gives us the opportunity of looking inwards to see how we function on a deeper level. An ashram is a sacred place where the atmosphere is charged with transformative energy. From this we can gain spiritual nourishment and inner strength to continue with our lives in the family and in society.